In days gone, muscle car wars revolved around jamming as much power under the hood as possible or setting a scorching quarter-mile time at the strip. Today, fuel economy plays an equally important part. Chevrolet fired an opening salvo by installing a potent yet thrifty V-6 into its 2010 Camaro, but Ford's firing back with its tweaked 2011 Mustang.
Ford's entry-level Mustang no longer makes do with the antiquated 4.0-liter V-6 used since the 2005 model. Instead, it gleans a new variant of Ford's Duratec V-6, which also appears in the likes of the Fusion, Edge, and Taurus. For the Mustang, it's been bored out to displace 3.7 liters, but retains its aluminum construction and twin-independent variable cam timing with the 3.5-liter unit used in the Fusion Sport.
The extra displacement helps boost power to 305 hp at 6500 rpm, and a meaty 280 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. In case you're wondering, that works out to about one horsepower and seven lb-ft more than the Camaro's 3.6-liter V-6, all achieved without the aid of direct fuel injection.
In this case, that thrust must be matched with thrift, and engineers looked to eke every last bit of fuel efficiency from the car. Four- and five-speed transmissions have been replaced with a six-speed manual and automatic (the former supplied from Getrag). An electric power steering pump replaces the traditional belt-driven unit, helping reduce engine load. The front chin spoiler is slightly taller, and helps direct air flow around new underbody panels and wheel spats located on the leading edges of the rocker panels. Ford says these changes all help a Mustang V-6 with the automatic transmission achieve 19/30 mpg (city/highway), eclipsing a similar Camaro by approximately 1 mpg.
Although the new Mustang will arrive in dealers shortly, we'd recommend holding out until the summer of 2010, and springing for a new optional “performance package.” That nomenclature is misleading – no extra power is extracted from the V-6, but engineers have hit the parts bin to help improve the suspension. Struts, springs, and stabilizer bars are all borrowed from the GT, while the rear lower control arms are cribbed from the Shelby GT500. A new front strut tower brace spans the engine compartment, while a 3.31 rear axle ratio helps improve acceleration. 19-inch aluminum wheels, shod in Pirelli performance rubber, help top off the package.
If you're keeping track of the numbers, you've likely noticed that this new V-6 is nearly as powerful as last year's GT model, which used a 315-hp 4.6-liter V-8. Ford claims it “isn't ready” to talk about the 2011 GT quite yet, but rest assured some additional power is on the way...